Several of the most amazing things I’ve seen technology do in recent years are associated with Google Maps.
Such as the traffic feature.
Look at Google Maps on your phone, and you’ll see how well traffic is moving — or whether it’s moving at all — on the road ahead of you.
Google does this by — Edward Snowden and the ACLU should brace themselves at this point — keeping track of all the Maps-equipped phones traveling on the road. Not only that road, of course, but all roads, all of the time. In real time.
Now, we see that law enforcement can do, and does, something similar by tracking license plates:
The spread of cheap, powerful cameras capable of reading license plates has allowed police to build databases on the movements of millions of Americans over months or even years, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report released Wednesday.
The license-plate readers, which authorities typically mount along major roadways or on the backs of cruisers and government vehicles, can identify cars almost instantly and compare them against “hot lists” of vehicles that have been stolen or involved in crimes.
But the systems collect records on every license plate they encounter — whether or not they are on hot lists — meaning that time and location data are gathered in databases that can be searched by police. Some departments purge information after a few weeks, some after a few months and some never, said the report, which warns that such data could be abused by authorities and chill freedom of speech and association…
You have to pity the ACLU, Rand Paul, et al. They are doomed to worry themselves to death. Because this toothpaste is not going back into the tube.
I liked the way it was put in an explainer of the Google traffic function:
So how does Google know what traffic is like on the roads, nearly all the time? From our smartphones, of course. Whether you like it or not, “telephone companies have always known where your phone is,” Dobson says, because cell phone companies need to use location to appropriately charge customers for calls. That means the companies are constantly monitoring location based on the strength of signal to a cell tower, which allows the phone to switch towers as it travels. Since 2011, the Federal Communications Commission has also required that phones come with GPS, so between the triangulation with cell towers and the GPS requirement, your phone is a marked man….
Now, this has stirred up some controversy about whether the process is an invasion of privacy. But both Dobson and Zhan Guo, a transportation policy professor at New York University, nearly laughed when asked about privacy concerns. That ship has already sailed….
Indeed. One might as well laugh.
Some will say that a private company keeping tabs on your every move, for its own greater profit (and utility, of course) is preferable to the gummint doing so.
I don’t think either is necessarily preferable, just different. And either way, ultimately inevitable.